The Sting of Separation - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

The Sting of Separation

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(Data Courtesy: George Mason University) (Data Courtesy: George Mason University)

CAMBRIDGE, Md.-  The Eastern Shore, like much of the southern half of the United States, has a history of slavery.  Of course, slavery ended well over 150 years ago.  It's important to remember the past in order to change the future, and now computers can help us give us a clearer view.

A nondescript store in Dorchester County may not look like much, but this is possibly the oldest standing general store in the state of Maryland.  Susan Meredith, who owns the building with her husband Jay, says the property holds an important place in the history of slavery, in particular the story of a young Harriet Tubman.

"She was in here and a slave boy ran in and the local overseer came.  When he came, he asked her to hold him while he whipped him, and she let him have it.  She defended him and when she did, he ran out the door, and the local overseer, Thomas Burnett, took a two pound counterweight and hurled it at the boy and accidentally hit her in the head.  From that time on she suffered from what we know as narcolepsy," said Meredith.

Meredith's store is one of several places in Dorchester County where you can connect with the past.  Another is the Harriet Tubman Museum in downtown Cambridge.  William Jarmon is on the board of the museum, and says slavery was abundant in the area.

"These small farms had maybe one to two to three families that supported the farm life that was necessary at that time.  In the early 1800s, more slaves were necessary to keep up with the grain crops in this area," said Jarmon.

Even still, for the most part Herschell Johnson with the local NAACP says slavery was smaller scale than other areas.

"Maybe when we say there were a lot of large farms that had maybe 15 or 16 slaves, they didn't have a large number of slaves like they did further south," said Johnson.

There are plenty of places you can go on the shore to connect with the history of slavery.  You can go to places like Susan Meredith's store or here to the birthplace of Harriet Tubman.  But these days, everything in our world is very technical, so why not turn on the computer and see what we can find there.

What you can find is this map, created by an assistant professor of history at George Mason University.  The map allows you to scroll back and forth through time, and using census data, you can watch as slavery spreads, and as the number of free African Americans increases.

Jarmon says it's a useful tool for understanding our history.

"As you gradually move towards 1860, the free population is growing, and the enslaved population is decreasing.  Over a period of time, I would just assume over the course of 50 or 100 years, slavery would have ended itself without actually having to have a civil war," said Jarmon.

The map also shows the population didn't entirely flee after being freed.

"People stayed here because they had family.  In the case of Harriet, I guess Harriet would have stayed if she wasn't abused.  But she just had to get away.  People ran away from Dorchester County, but even members of Harriet's family decided to stay," said Johnson.

But why look at the past at all?  a chance to see how far things have come.

"We as African Americans seem to forget what we went through in order to get where we are today.  To look at that map, and see how things have changed at least shows us our history and see how far we had to come to get where we are today," said Johnson.

A chance to change the future.

"You can still walk around in Cambridge, and there are still activities that are separated by race, and that is just something that in time will perhaps change.  We all celebrate the same culture, the same religion, the same social activities, but there is that line that separates us because of the color of our skin," said Jarmon.

And a chance to end slavery once and for all.

"If you are a descendent of a slave or are appalled by slavery, then what are you doing to stop slavery today?  It's everywhere.  It's still going on, and it's still going on in other countries.  It could be women or children, little boys.  It all revolves around sex.  Back then it revolved around work, now it revolves around sex slavery, it's very sad," said Meredith.

All of the people we spoke to said the same thing.  if you don't know the past, you are doomed to repeat it.  by understanding the past, they hope the future can be brighter.

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